The island - discovered by Christopher COLUMBUS in 1494 - was settled by the Spanish early in the 16th century. The native Taino, who had inhabited Jamaica for centuries, were gradually exterminated and replaced by African slaves. England seized the island in 1655 and established a plantation economy based on sugar, cocoa, and coffee. The abolition of slavery in 1834 freed a quarter million slaves, many of whom became small farmers. Jamaica gradually increased its independence from Britain. In 1958 it joined other British Caribbean colonies in forming the Federation of the West Indies. Jamaica gained full independence when it withdrew from the Federation in 1962. Deteriorating economic conditions during the 1970s led to recurrent violence as rival gangs affiliated with the major political parties evolved into powerful organized crime networks involved in international drug smuggling and money laundering. Violent crime, drug trafficking, and poverty pose significant challenges to the government today. Nonetheless, many rural and resort areas remain relatively safe and contribute substantially to the economy.
Caribbean, island in the Caribbean Sea, south of Cuba
bauxite, gypsum, limestone
Population - distribution
population density is high throughout, but increases in and around Kingston, Montego Bay, and Port Esquivel
KINGSTON (capital) 588,000 (2015)
- Conventional long form
- Conventional short form
- Local long form
- Local short form
parliamentary democracy (Parliament) under a constitutional monarchy; a Commonwealth realm
- Geographic coordinates
- 18 00 N, 76 48 W
- Time difference
- UTC-5 (same time as Washington, DC, during Standard Time)
has not submitted an ICJ jurisdiction declaration; non-party state to the ICCt
The Jamaican economy is heavily dependent on services, which accounts for more than 70% of GDP. The country continues to derive most of its foreign exchange from tourism, remittances, and bauxite/alumina. Earnings from remittances and tourism each account for about 15% of GDP, while bauxite/alumina exports have declined to less than 5% of GDP.
- External debt stocks
- US$ 14,121,507,000
- Total tax rate (% of commercial profits)
- Real Interest Rate
- Manufacturing, value added (% of GDP)
- Current Account Balance
- US$ -103,005,162
- Labor Force, Total
- Employment in Agriculture
- Employment in Industry
- Employment in Services
- Unemployment Rate
- Imports of goods and services
- US$ 6,628,280,668
- Exports of goods and services
- US$ 4,366,792,026
- Total Merchandise Trade
- FDI, net inflows
- US$ 790,449,854
- Commercial Service Exports
- US$ 3,186,611,286
sugarcane, bananas, coffee, citrus, yams, ackees, vegetables; poultry, goats, milk; shellfish
tourism, bauxite/alumina, agricultural-processing, light manufactures, rum, cement, metal, paper, chemical products, telecommunications
- alumina, bauxite, sugar, rum, coffee, yams, beverages, chemicals, apparel, mineral fuels
- US 24.3%, Canada 16.4%, Russia 9.3%, Netherlands 8.8%, Iceland 7.1%, UK 6.5% (2015)
- food and other consumer goods, industrial supplies, fuel, parts and accessories of capital goods, machinery and transport equipment, construction materials
- US 34.9%, China 12.9%, Trinidad and Tobago 11.9%, Venezuela 6.1% (2015)
- Country Risk Rating
- Political and economic uncertainties and an occasionally difficult business environment can affect corporate payment behavior. Corporate default probability is appreciable.
- Business Climate Rating
- The business environment is mediocre. The availability and the reliability of corporate financial information vary widely. Debt collection can sometimes be difficult. The institutional framework has a few troublesome weaknesses. Intercompany transactions run appreciable risks in the unstable, largely inefficient environments rated B.
- Natural resources (bauxite, sugar, bananas, coffee) and tourism
- Financial support from multilateral bodies
- Substantial remittances from the diaspora
- Stable democratic framework
- Poorly diversified economy
- Vulnerability to external shocks (climate, U.S. economy, commodities)
- Very high public debt and debt interest payments, which significantly inhibits growth
- High crime rate and poverty levels
Jamaica's growth rate has been relatively modest, affected, in particular, by weak internal demand (consumption and investment), inhibited by the policy of fiscal austerity implemented by the government for the past few years and by high unemployment levels (around 13%). In 2016, activity benefited, however, from momentum in the tourism sector and good performances in the agricultural sector. In 2017, growth is expected to improve thanks to an expected rise in private consumption, which will be boosted by the raising of the income tax threshold, which according to the government will enable 120,000 Jamaican workers to be exempted from this tax. With regard to external trade, exports of bauxite and aluminum are likely to be hit by weak metal prices, although these will be partially offset by a projected increase in the sugar price on international markets. Growth potential will, meanwhile, continue to be weighed down by infrastructure shortcomings, weak productivity associated with the poorly qualified workforce, as well as by the high crime rate. Inflation is set to rise because of robust internal demand and an increase, though modest, in the oil price.
The new government, in place since February 2016, has promised to continue the fiscal austerity policy begun in 2013 in return for IMF aid. Thanks to the progress already made on stabilizing the economy, the IMF approved a new Stand-by-Arrangement (SBA) in November 2016 for a total of USD 1.64 billion valid for 3 years from 2017. Although fiscal consolidation would seem essential for reducing the public debt, the level of which puts Jamaica among the ten most indebted countries in the world, the government apparently wants to spare the poorest of its population. Accordingly, it passed an act to abolish income tax for the lowest-income households (up to 1.5 million Jamaican dollars/year). This measure entered into force in July 2016 for households with incomes of up to JMD 1 million/year. The second wave of exemptions is scheduled for April 2017. The earnings loss in terms of the State's tax receipts is expected to be partially offset by higher taxes (of between 25% and 30%) on households with incomes above JMD 6 million/year. The government is also relying on higher taxes on fuel and tobacco, bringing down civil service salaries to 9% of GDP by 2017 (compared with 10.1% of GDP in 2015) and better tax collection thanks to measures to simplify the tax system. The government has meanwhile underlined the country's commitment to cutting the public debt ratio to below 100% of GDP by 2019-20.
Jamaica's current account deficit has improved sharply since 2015, thanks in particular to a reduction in the energy bill, lower imported oil prices and higher remittances from emigrants living mostly in the United States. In 2017, the deficit is projected to increase slightly, driven by the increase, though modest, in energy prices. The depreciation of the local currency against the dollar is, however, expected to contribute to greater export competitiveness in the agricultural sector, where production is expected to recover following the fading of the El Nino weather phenomenon. The balance of services is still expected to benefit from the dynamism of the tourism sector and of transfers and remittances by expatriate workers.
After narrowly winning the 2016 general election held on 25 February 2016 with 33 seats out of 63 won by members of the Jamaican Labour Party (JLP), Prime Minister Andrew Holness remains very popular. One of the reasons for his success is the effective delivery of his key campaign promise to abolish income tax on lower-income households without losing the IMF's financial support. On the geopolitical level, the government is expected to favour relations with the United States, the country's main trading partner and source of remittances from expatriate workers. The government is also likely to concentrate its efforts on regional co-operation to fight against drug trafficking and crime levels, which affect the business climate because of the significant related costs these generate for businesses.